New HITECH Requirements for Reimbursement Eligibility

 On July 13, Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius announced final rules under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009.  HITECH was part of the stimulus bill, also known as the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).    

 The new rules came from different agencies within HHS.  In its first wave of this change, CMS issued rules setting minimum requirements for the “meaningful use” of electronic health records (EHR) technology.  Healthcare providers will be asked to meet a core group of 25 requirements (23 for hospitals) that HHS says will focus on the quality, safety and efficiency of care, engage patients and their families in care, and promote the security of electronically stored personal health information.  In addition to these, providers must select from a menu of additional requirements they will also commit to meeting in order to qualify for incentive payments.  More criteria for demonstrating meaningful use would phase in as EHR technology becomes more robust.  

 The government will also provide over $27 billion in financial incentives for provider compliance over the next 10 years.  Providers can begin registering for the incentive program in January 2011.  A physician could receive up to $44,000 from Medicare and $63,750 from Medicaid for switching to a certified EHR system and implementing the minimum requirements.  On the other hand, providers failing to meet these standards by 2015 could see their reimbursements for professional services “adjusted,” presumably downward.  

 To complement the CMS rules, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) also issued rules setting standards and a basic certification program for EHR software programs – to ensure that the software a provider buys from an approved provider will meet the minimum compliance requirements.  The agency expects certified software to become available in late 2010.

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